The All-Time Houston Astros Team – By Season
Continuing in my series of the best seasons at every position for every team, I decided to look at another NL Central franchise that has had better days: the Houston Astros. For those that are wondering, this includes players that were around when they were the Colt .45’s. Take a special look at the rotation, and especially some of the players that couldn’t make it.
Catcher: Joe Ferguson, 1977
Joe Ferguson played just one full year in the Astrodome, which was lucky for him because it must have been tough for those rainbow uniforms to make him feel like a man, Major League catcher or not. His patience at the plate helped produce a .379 on-base percentage and his arm behind it enabled him to throw out a solid 39% of base runners.
1st Base: Jeff Bagwell, 1994
Unlike most players (Griffey, Belle, Thomas, Williams, Bonds) who were dominating during the 1994 season, Jeff Bagwell actually benefited from the strike. Why? Well, he had had his hand broken by a pitch, resulting in a season-ending injury on August 10; the next day, the season ended. Had the season played out, it is unlikely that Bagwell would have won the league MVP award, despite a .368/.451/.750 line with a league leading 213 OPS+ as well as league leading totals of 104 runs scored and 116 RBI (in just 400 PA). But since he accumulated around as many games and plate appearances as any one else, he won the award unanimously.
2nd Base: Craig Biggio, 1997
The most important job of a leadoff hitter is to reach base and the second most important job is to run the bases well – using both speed and base-running instincts – to score runs. Well, in the 1990’s, Biggio was as good in a class by himself in that regard among National League leadoff hitters. In 1997, Biggio hit .309 with a .415 on-base percentage, and was 47/57 in stolen base attempts. His abilities along with Jeff Bagwell’s production resulted in him scoring 146 runs – the most runs scored in the National League since Chuck Klein in 1932.
3rd Base: Morgan Ensberg, 2005
Houston’s pitching – which included Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt – was the main driving force in taking the Astros to their first pennant in 2005. But Bagwell on the disabled list all year and Berkman having a less dominant season than usual, Houston’s tremendous staff might have been stuck watching the Phillies compete for that pennant. Morgan Ensberg wasn’t about to let that happen; during the season, he hit 36 homers and drove in 101 to finish fourth in the MVP voting and then drove in seven runs in four games against the Braves in the NLDS en route to the first World Series appearance in team history.
Shortstop: Dickie Thon, 1983
At the age of 25, Dickie Thon had the kind of year that caused some to pronounce him a future Hall-of-Famer. In just his second full season, the shortstop hit .286 with 20 homeruns and 34 stolen bases, winning a silver slugger and finishing seventh in the league in MVP voting. Early the next season, however, Thon suffered a severe injury to his orbital bone on a hit-by-pitch. He was never the same; frankly it was amazing that he came back and was able to play for nine more seasons is remarkable in and of itself.
Leftfield: Moises Alou, 1998
After helping the Florida Marlins win the 1997 World Series, Moises Alou was traded for three pitchers who would combine for 57 career games after the trade. Alou adapted well to his new surroundings and lineup by hitting .312/.399/.582 with a 157 OPS+, 38 homeruns, and 124 RBI. The successful season with his new team resulted in a third place finish in the MVP voting, behind Misters Sosa and McGwire.
Centerfield: Jim Wynn, 1969
Jim Wynn played in one of the worst hitter environments imaginable during the first eleven seasons of his career; much of it was spent in an era of pitcher’s dominance, while playing in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks, the Astrodome. This made his .269/.436/.507 line that much more impressive. Neutralized for the Astros first season at Enron (remember that?) Field, Wynn’s statistics come out to .328/.508/.620, with 44 homers, 118 RBI’s, and 153 runs scored.
Rightfield: Lance Berkman, 2004
I think Berkman had a couple of better years, but using his 2004 season – when he mainly played rightfield – was the best way to maximize the team as a whole. Berkman was instrumental in helping the Astros get to their first NLCS since 1986, putting up a .450 on-base percentage and finishing 6th in the league with a 159 OPS+.
RHP – Mike Scott, 1986
Mike Scott was flat-out remarkable during the 1986 season, leading the league with a 161 ERA+, 0.923 WHIP, 306 strikeouts, 275.1 innings pitched, 5 shutouts, and a 4.25 K/BB ratio. In other words, every meaningful category for a pitcher. He edged out Fernando Valenzuela for the Cy Young award in what should not have been a close contest and his efforts during the season were key in getting the Astros to the NLCS. There, he dominated the NLCS about as much as he possibly could have; Scott completed both his starts, giving up just 1 run, 1 walk, 8 hits while striking out 19 to earn both Astros’ wins. He pitched five more seasons and then became the regional manager of a northeastern paper sales company.
RHP – Roger Clemens, 2005
In 2004, Roger Clemens benefited from the voters’ then-obsession with the almighty “win” statistic, winning the Cy Young despite superior seasons from Randy Johnson, Ben Sheets and Carlos Zambrano because of a glitzy 18-4 record. The next season (at the age of 42!), Clemens went 13-8 but was clearly the best pitcher in the National League, posting a league-best 1.87 ERA which translates to the 12th best ERA+ of all-time. He finished just third in the Cy Young voting that season, so he had to settle with having just two more Cy Youngs than anyone else in history.
RHP – Larry Dierker, 1969
After the 1968 season – where pitchers dominated the Majors – the mound was lowered and the strike zone was adjusted to accommodate higher offense. Larry Dierker, who would one day manage the Astros, didn’t appear bothered by the changes. The righty went 20-13 with a 152 ERA+ over 305.1 innings while finishing 3rd in WHIP and 6th in strikeouts.
LHP – Andy Pettitte, 2005
Andy Pettitte retired last week, clamoring many Yankee fans to obsessively clamor that he should make the Hall-of-Fame. Well, he shouldn’t. But if he had had more seasons like 2005, a great argument could have been made in his favor. Once again, Andy Pettitte wasn’t the best pitcher on his own team (see above) but he was arguably the second best pitcher in his league, posting the second-best ERA+ at 177 and the third-best WHIP at 1.030.
RHP – Nolan Ryan, 1981
It was tough for me to pull the trigger on this one, because 1981 was a strike season, and there were so many good starters (Don Wilson, Darryl Kile, J.R. Richard, Roy Oswalt, Mike Hampton) who could have made it. Still, it’s tough to picture a way that Nolan Ryan could have been more dominant in 1981, albeit in just 149 innings. Ryan posted a league-best 195 ERA+ that season and, incredibly, gave up just two homeruns all year.
C – Brad Ausmus, 1997: Just an 83 OPS+, but very few were better behind the plate.
1B – Glenn Davis, 1989: Third in NL with 34 dingers
2B – Joe Morgan, 1965: At age 21, had the discipline to lead league with 97 walks. At age 48, thought walks were stupid.
IF – Denis Menke, 1970: .304 batting average with .392 OBP and 92 RBI’s; played 6 positions.
OF – Richard Hidalgo, 2000: .636 slugging percentage, 42 doubles and 44 homers in breakout year
OF – Cesar Cedeno, 1972: .320/.385/.537 with 39 doubles, 22 homers, and 55 stolen bases.
OF – Jose Cruz, 1984: Led league with 10 sacrifice flies; fourth in NL with 145 OPS+
Closer – Billy Wagner, 1999: Struck out 124 batters in just 74.2 innings
Setup – Octavio Dotel, 2002: Actually was a setup man; had 10.9 K/9 with 0.873 WHIP
Fireman/LHP – Hal Woodeshick, 1963: Lone “Colt .45” on the team threw 114 relief innings and won or saved 21 of team’s 66 victories
RHP – Brad Lidge, 2004: Took over setup job when Dotel became closer, then took over closer when Dotel was traded. Oh, and 14.9 K/9.
RHP – Dave Smith, 1987: 239 ERA+ and 1.000 WHIP; one-inning closer before Eckersley.
Tags: Houston Astros